Sporting a tank top and shorts on a sunshine-filled Wednesday, Oskar Klasson of Sweden could barely believe it was wintertime. "This is like a good summer day in Sweden," he said, dipping his paddle into the glasslike waters of Old Tampa Bay.
Klasson, 23, was one of a half-dozen novice paddlers at Philippe Park getting their feet wet in what is said to be the fastest growing water sport around: SUP.
That's short for stand-up paddleboarding, a fairly simple sport where one stands on a large surfboard and glides across the water with a paddle.
The learning curve is short, especially when performed on calm waters.
"If you can get on your hands and knees and stand up, you can paddleboard," said Kim Ward, owner of Tampa Bay SUP. She said she and her instructors have taught basic techniques to about 2,000 people in the past two years, among them a 76-year-old woman and a child with autism.
Ward operates two locations: Clearwater Beach and the sandy shoreline in Philippe Park in Safety Harbor. In February, she's adding yoga SUP classes to the Safety Harbor location.
Seventy percent of her clientele is female and most are between the ages of 26 and 55, she said.
"Women tend to learn faster because they have a lower center of balance. It's a fun way to burn an average of 500 calories an hour —- up to 1,000 if you really go all out or are racing.
"It's great for your core," she said.
Rebekka Gray, 31, of Oldsmar glided around with one of her daughters on the front of the board.
"It's a great upper-body workout, which I need," Gray said.
Each board is equipped with a "leash" to wrap around the paddler's ankle, a whistle and a life jacket.
The boards come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on the person or need. Some sleek designs are for racing, while the wider boards provide stability for beginners.
Lightweight boards with foam cores are perfect for women to haul around. And Ward recently added paddleboards that accommodate fishing gear.
She and a crew also make a custom wooden boards called a Kaholo. Ward sells all kinds of paddleboards. Prices start at $500 for a used board.
After about 15 minutes of instruction, Amy Walker, 29, of Michigan was touring the waterway on her own and catching a few rays along the way.
"It's more interesting than a treadmill," she said. "Better scenery than a gym. And it sure beats shoveling snow for cardio."
As Anthony Schimizzi of Michigan put it, "It's a great escape from the daily routine."
"Out here," he said, "you can be one with nature."
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